Buying a Used Truck

Buying a used pickup truck can be a great way to save money, as long as you are able to detect any problems before you buy it. Be prepared for what may need to be done before you start shopping.

Picking the Right Truck

Set a Budget

If your goal is to save money, make sure that you understand your budget and know what kind of truck you want. There are many options to choose from, and if you allow yourself to get distracted by the bells and whistles, you may find that you've set your heart on a truck that simply isn't a smart choice for your finances.

By holding yourself to a specific dollar amount as your first priority, you'll give yourself a framework within to shop that won't set you outside of your means.

Prioritize Your Needs

Once you've settled on a budget that's reasonable for your finances, you should then make a list of the features most important to you. Ask yourself for what purpose will you primarily be using the truck—will you be hauling and/or transporting heavy materials? Do you drive mostly on highways or dirt and unpaved roads? Do you have kids that you'll be driving back and forth to classes, soccer practice, dance recital, or school plays?

Prioritizing your needs will help you decide which features you should be looking for first when shopping for your used truck—be it larger cab space, a second row of seating, a stronger hitch, or a more powerful engine.

Inspecting the Used Truck

A thorough review of the vehicle is an absolute must when buying any used car or truck. Since trucks are often work vehicles, they can be subject to damaging wear and tear. If you're not prepared to get your hands dirty going over the engine, the frame, and other parts of the truck, plan on having an expert do it for you—even if you have to pay a little extra.

There should be two goals to your inspection:

  1. Find any red flags that either give you a better bargaining position or cause you to walk away from buying that particular truck.
  2. Make sure the truck is in the condition you want it when you drive off with it.

Structural Warning Signs

Before finalizing your purchase, make sure to check on the items below to ensure that the truck is structurally sound.


Rust is a good indicator of the condition of the car and can be hard to conceal, but you have to know where to look. Check the underside of both the car and the doors. Rust can also hide under paint, so keep your eye out for bumps pushing out from smooth surfaces. Don't be afraid to pull up floor mats or other materials in your way.

Accident Damage

Run a vehicle history report to check the truck's accident history. A major accident in a truck's life should make you think twice.


Whether it's an automatic or a standard, test out shifting gears to ensure there are no unexpected sounds or lurches. Do this both at a standstill and on a test drive.

Leaks & Cracks

Leaks are hard to fix and can signal damage from overuse or an accident. Any cracked part will likely need a repair in the near future.

Excessive Wear & Tear

It's normal to expect wear and tear on a used car or truck. Too much wear and tear, however, should be noted as a risk since it can mean the truck has been used very aggressively, or has been driven more than typical for its year and odometer reading. Even a new truck will need repairs if it's been overused or used too roughly.

Checking Mechanical Elements

It's a good idea to have a checklist so that you don't forget to look at every part. In addition to the areas above, be sure to check the truck's:

  • Oil.
    • Make sure it's been changed recently.
  • Fluid levels and quality.
  • Belts.
    • Look for wear and condition.
  • Shock absorbers.
  • Extras you may care about (radio, air conditioning, etc.).

Common Tricks for Buying Used Trucks

When buying a used truck, you may encounter people trying to cover up damage or other problems.

For instance, if you find a truck with high mileage but no wear and tear on the seats, pedals, or paint, this could mean that these parts were replaced. If that's the case, be sure to understand why.

Conversely, significant wear and tear on a low-mileage used truck might indicate that the odometer has been tampered with.

A fresh coat of paint can also be suspicious if it's a sign of recent bodywork. You can determine if the body is metal, or if it's a synthetic material used for repair work—gently tap your knuckle on the truck's sides to reveal different sounds. You can also use a magnet to test for bodywork, as the magnet will only stick to metal.

By doing your research both before and during the purchase process, you'll set yourself up to drive away in the perfect used truck for your needs.

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